Spring Semester 2013
Gifts of Future Interests
Introduction to Estates in Land: The Fee Simple Absolute and the Life Estate
1. In Gruen v. Gruen, why wasn't Victor Gruen's intent testamentary in nature? If the son doesn't get possession of the painting until Victor's death, does the son really have any present property interest at all? If so, what good does it do him, if he can't enjoy possession of the painting until his death?
2. Assume Victor Gruen was still alive. Michael proposes to sell you his interest in the painting. An appraiser says that the fair market value of the painting is $20 million. How much would you pay Michael to acquire his interest in the painting? Explain how you would establish the "price" you would pay.
3. Would Victor's letter have been good enough if Victor had been making a complete inter vivos gift of the painting to Michael (i.e., if Victor had not been retaining a future interest)? Why or why not?
4. Suppose Victor had executed this letter and, instead of sending it to Michael, he had stuck it on the back of the painting, where it hung on his wall until the time of his death. Then, after his father's death, Michael discovered the painting and the letter and tried to take possession of the painting, but his stepmother refused to release the painting to him. [Assume Michael's stepmother received all of Victor's property under his will.] Who would own the painting: Michael or his stepmother? Why?
5. Consider the situation in the Lawyering Exercise on page 235-236, in which Mr. Cohn wants to give his wife 500 shares of stock as a birthday gift, but wants to be able to vote those shares two weeks later at the company's stockholder meeting. How might Mr. Cohn go about making this gift in an effective fashion that accomplishes his objectives? What advice can/should you give Mr. Cohn about this gift?
6. If Owner deeds land "to A and B," this makes A and B co-owners of the land in fee simple absolute. If instead Owner deeds land "to A and his heirs," this does not make A and his heirs co-owners of the land; instead, A has a fee simple absolute. Can you explain why it makes sense to interpret the language "to A and his heirs" this way?
7. In White v. Brown, why are Jessie Lide's nieces and nephews parties to the lawsuit seeking an interpretation of Jessie Lide's will?
8. What possible interpretations could we give to Jessie's words that she wanted Evelyn to have the home "to live in and not to be sold"? [Think of as many plausible interpretations as you can.] What interpretation do you think is most consistent with Jessie's likely intent? Do you think the court was primarily attempting to carry out Jessie's actual intent, or the presumed intention of a "reasonable person" who used that same language? Or do you think the court is instead interpreting the will based upon policy factors unrelated to Jessie's intent? On what language in the opinion do you base your answer?
9. The trial court in White v. Brown concluded that Jessie's will had created only a life estate in Evelyn White, and it ordered the land sold and the proceeds distributed between Evelyn and Jessie's nieces and nephews. Assume, for the sake of argument, that the will had clearly given Evelyn only a life estate. Would it have been appropriate for the trial court to order a sale of the home, given Jessie's express instructions that her house was not to be sold? If so, why shouldn't the law respect Jessie's restriction against sale of the house?
10. Again, for the sake of argument, assume that Jessie Lide's will had clearly devised Evelyn only a life estate. The trial court ordered the land sold and the proceeds distributed between Evelyn and Jessie's nieces and nephews immediately — even though Evelyn was still alive. Given that the nieces and nephews have only a future interest, should they be entitled to collect any of the proceeds while Evelyn remains alive? Why or why not?
11. Look at the Lawyering Exercise on pages 251-252. Is there any way that the court could rule that Olive's deed made an effective inter vivos gift? Should the court rule that way?